How to Use a Condenser Microphone

By: HowStuffWorks.com Contributors  | 

Whether you're recording a podcast, musical track or field recording, you want to ensure that your audio is crystal clear every time. Condenser microphones are an excellent tool that delivers high sensitivity to capture subtle nuances and smooth frequency response [source: Apex]. Whether you're plucking, drumming, singing or speaking, condenser microphones create high-quality audio. Read the steps listed below and learn about how to use a condenser microphone on your computer.

  1. Ensure that your microphone software has been properly installed on your computer. Follow the instructions provided with your hardware, when installing the software.
  2. Set your microphone close to your computer. You will want the microphone to be 4 to 16 inches (10 to 40.6 centimeters) away from the audio that you're recording. Make sure that your space is void of any disruptions that may distort the sound [source: Samson].
  3. Set the microphone's pattern switch to Cardioid. This will ensure that the microphone is picking up the sound coming directly at it, as opposed to sound from the sides or back [source: Samson]. Make sure that the front of the microphone is facing the correct direction.
  4. Connect the headphones to the microphone by plugging the cable into the output marked Phones.
  5. Connect the microphone to the computer through the USB cable supplied with the microphone. Plug the small end of the cable into the microphone. Plug the other end of the cable into a USB port on your computer.
  6. Control the sound by launching your computer's digital audio workstation (DAW). Turn the computer's main output level down and switch the input and outputs to your microphone.
  7. Set the sound input of the microphone half way up in the digital audio workstation. This will ensure that you can hear your audio clearly, without distorting the sound.
  8. Put on the headphones and make some noise to test the volume level. Adjust the output level control in the DAW until you obtain a suitable listening level. Now you're ready to record [source: Samson].

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Originally Published: Jun 23, 2011

Condenser Microphones FAQs

How does a condenser mic work?
Condenser microphones use two charged metal plates (a diaphragm and backplate) that form a capacitor. When soundwaves hit the mic's diaphragm, they vibrate within the diaphragm, and the distance between the back plate and diaphragm impacts the voltage called capacitance. The movement of the diaphragm and the change in spacing produces the electrical signal that corresponds to the sound that's picked up.
Do condenser microphones deliver great sound?
Yes. The sound they produce is often considered to be crisp, clear and very detailed.
Can a condenser microphone be plugged into a computer?
While it's possible for dynamic microphones to be plugged into the mic port of almost all computers, condenser microphones can't be directly connected in the same way. However, you can connect them to your computer via a mixer and sound card or with an XLR cable to audio interface to computer.

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